Holiday Baking: Bread Pudding

My first holiday recipe is bread pudding. Thanksgiving is just a couple of weeks away, and this seems like an appropriate thing to serve the day after Thanksgiving. You can use any extra bread that didn't make it into the turkey dressing and any leftover dinner rolls from the dinner. Total prep time is about three hours, but it's a lot of waiting. You can make it the night before and reheat it after the Black Friday sales. Or if you're among The 99%, you can take some meaningful action against corporate greed, skip the mall altogether, and fix it up for brunch while all the family is still in town.

One of the girls I shared my first apartment with in college has a killer bread pudding recipe. Once we became adults, I was fortunate to have her and her family living close by for far too brief a time and had the pleasure of enjoying it on a couple of occasions.

While bread pudding is traditionally served with a hard sauce or a caramel sauce, I pulled out a hazy memory from childhood of a lemon sauce my mom used to serve over yellow cake. It certainly dressed up the cake, and the light, lemony flavor strikes me as a nice contrast to the density of the pudding.

While  I do not have either recipe, I do have The Joy of Cooking cookbook thanks to my mom. They believe that there is a lot of room for variation in bread pudding, and I planned on finding out just what I could get away with. Any type of bread will do so long as it is a yeast bread - no soda bread or biscuits. I used an old loaf of sourdough bread with a little bit of a multi-grain loaf added for character. Even though this was my first bread pudding and I didn't really know what I was doing, it seemed to come together fairly well, although not anywhere near the bread pudding perfection of my former roommate. Maybe with practice.....

For the pudding you will need:

  • 3 tbsp butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 to 2 loaves of bread
  • 1 cup of raisins (you can substitute another dried fruit if you prefer. I considered dried cherries, but then thought fresh raspberries would work better with the lemon sauce.)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 baking pan, about 13 x 9 inches, preferably glass. I used my large Corningwear casserole. This made an enormous bread pudding that did not go without comment from the real cook in the house.

Step 1

Spread all of the butter - yes all of it - along the inside of your baking pan.

Buttered baking pan

Slice the bread into 1/2 inch thick slices and place in the pan upright and tightly packed. Then insert your choice of fruit in between the slices.

Bread and fruit before egg is added

Step 2

Whisk the eggs until they are frothy.

Frothy eggs ready for remaining ingredients

Then add the milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon and whisk until well-blended. Pour this mixture over the bread and let it sit for about an hour, pressing the bread down into the egg mixture periodically. This will help the bread absorb the egg.

Egg mixture added to bread and fruit

Bread pudding after 30 minutes

Bread pudding after 1 hour - ready to bake

Preheat the oven to 375

Step 3

Bake the pudding for about an hour. It will be lightly browned when fully baked. About 45 minutes into baking, make your sauce.

For the sauce you will need:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp corn starch (I substituted potato starch. It dissolves more quickly, is less prone to clumping, and lends a far less starchy flavor to food. You can get it at the Asian market. For Baltimore area readers, this means a trip to the H-Mart and some authentic Korean lunch at the adjacent Hanoori Town.)
  • 1 cup water or unsweetened apple juice (Apple juice? This didn't sound right to me, so I used water)
  • 1/4 cup strained lemon juice - this is about 3 lemons
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 to 2 tbsp butter, cut into pieces (optional, but makes for a richer sauce)

1 heavy sauce pan and a rubber silicon scraper

Step 4

Combine the sugar and corn starch until well mixed and there are no lumps in the corn starch. Then

add the water, juice, zest and salt and stir until mixed.

Cooking the sauce and waiting for potato starch magic

Step 5

Cook over medium-low heat, continuing to stir until the sauce comes to a boil. Continue to cook until thickened. If you're using potato starch, the sauce doesn't need to come to a boil. Keep an eye on it because once the potato starch hits the right temperature, you've suddenly got your sauce. Add the optional butter if you like and continue to cook until the butter is melted. I added the butter and got a sauce that was rich and creamy yet still very light and fruity.

Adding the optional butter

Step 6

When the bread pudding is done, take it out of the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool. Immediately pour the sauce over it.

Fully assembled and cooling

The sauce will gradually be absorbed into the pudding. Let it stand for 30 to 60 minutes before serving.

The sauced pudding will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, but really won't last much beyond the holiday weekend. To reheat, bake in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes.

If you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share, please email me at and let me know how you would like to be identified (ie "a reader in Ellicott City" vs your actual name). Include any traditions or memories associated with the dish if you like.